Sampaloc Manila is the town where I spent half of my childhood before moving to Southampton, New York. The stark difference between the two places plays a huge factor into who I am today. Sampaloc was a poor town, with overcrowded squatters surrounding the outskirts of the town with makeshift tin homes. Southampton on the other hand, was entirely different with beach houses and mansions the size of shopping malls surrounding the locals’ more quaint and simple homes.Even though I have yet to return and visit the Philippines, Sampaloc Manila is the town that has always had a special place in my heart. When I think of Sampaloc I think of a carefree life when I would run out of the house exactly after finishing meals just to be able to play “langit lupa,” (which translates to heaven and earth) a Filipino iteration of the game of tag with all of the kids on the street. After hours of playing traditional Filipino games, everyone would go to a corner store to buy candies and snacks that cost a penny or soda which the vendors poured into plastic bags and stuck a straw in making them very inconvenient and forcing you to finish it all in one go.
But one of my favorite places in Sampaloc was the town church and the wet market surrounding it. Every Sunday, I looked forward to eating all of my favorite street foods and desserts like rice cakes and “barquillos” (a crispy rolled wafer) in the wet market right after church. The fondest memories come from shopping for groceries in the wet market with my dad who was the best at haggling with the local farmers and fishermen. The scent was so distinct of the fresh fishes that any other kid would avoid visiting the market at all cost. But I lived for its fun and hectic environment where the vendors would tease me that I looked just like my dad, even calling me names like “Linggay,” (my dad’s name is Linggoy). Thinking back at this time now, this is probably why I always love to shop for groceries in Chinatown. The loud noises of vendors trying to get you to buy their food and the distinct smell of fresh fish takes me right back to my childhood.